The Liberators - Return to Dachau

The Liberators - Return to Dachau


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Review finds factual flaws in ‘The Liberators’

After a seven-month investigation of the factual accuracy of ”Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II,” WNET announced Sept. 7, 1993, that some portions of the documentary were ”seriously flawed” and that the New York station would continue to withhold the film from PTV distribution until it is corrected.

Judging by the producers’ reactions, the film is unlikely to return to the public airwaves. In a statement issued by Bill Miles and Nina Rosenblum, the filmmakers stood by the oral testimony presented in ”Liberators,” criticized WNET’s review for not being conducted independently, and accused WNET and PBS of censorship. Miles Educational Film Productions holds the copyright to the film. Both Miles and Rosenblum declined request for interviews.

”Liberators” was produced by Miles’ company in association with WNET, and aired last November on the PBS series, The American Experience (Current, May 17). During a December screening at New York’s Apollo Theater, the film was hailed for promoting harmony between the city’s African-American and Jewish communities.

But the documentary had a short honeymoon. Jewish and veterans groups challenged its assertions that two all-black battalions liberated the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps. In February, WNET and the American Experience jointly withdrew ”Liberators” from PTV distribution, and WNET hired a review team with ”complete autonomy” to review the film’s historical accuracy.

”What we have discovered is a difference in journalistic standards,” said Harry Chancey, v.p. of WNET’s program service. ”We essentially parted company with the producers on what is required to substantiate facts.”

Emmy-award winning documentarian Morton Silverstein led the three-member review team, which found the producers’ research to be ”at a level of paucity,” said Silverstein. The team could not substantiate the film’s assertion that the all-black 761st Tank Battalion and 183rd Combat Engineers liberated Buchenwald and Dachau, and found that the film omitted information about concentration camps the 761st did liberate. The study also found incorrect dates and misleading use of photos.

The producers neither adhered to the customary journalistic practice of verifying oral testimony they collected nor sufficiently utilized the advice of historians with pertinent expertise, Silverstein said.

Had the producers followed up on ”research that has existed for half a century,” Silverstein added, they could have substantiated their claim that the 761st did participate in liberations. Elements of that unit were present at Gunskirchen Lager, an Austrian concentration camp, during its liberation the review team also found evidence that the 761st participated in the liberation of a camp northeast of Nuremberg, Germany.

”Liberators” makes passing reference to a camp at Lambach, but the documentary does not elaborate on the 761st’s role in either verified liberation. By military definition, the ”liberator” of a camp is the first division to reach it, along with any follow-on divisions to arrive within 48 hours.

As for Buchenwald, the review team found what Silverstein believes is ”very strong evidence that members of the 183rd were at Buchenwald,” but it was not sufficient ”to categorically state that the 183rd was there during the 48-hour period of liberation.” The team can substantiate the unit’s presence at Buchenwald ”sometime within the week” of its liberation day, April 11, 1945.

Silverstein, whose many credits include ”Banks and the Poor,” was assisted in the WNET review by Diane Wilson, a former NBC and WQED researcher, and Nancy Ramsey, who has written for The New Yorker and Fortune.

A role for oral history

In their response to the review team’s findings, Miles and Rosenblum said that oral testimony is ”an essential way to inform the historic record, especially in light of the omissions concerning the contributions of African-Americans to the military in World War II.” Because such testimony is often impossible to verify, ”that is the reason for collecting oral testimony which must be included, not censored, in the historic record. We support the report’s conclusions that African-Americans played a critical role in the liberation and we abhor this attempt to limit public information and dialogue.”

Miles has achieved recognition as a senior documentarian for his work presenting African-American history, particularly in the military. His films include ”Men of Bronze” and ”The Different Drummer: Blacks in the Military,” both of which aired on public television. Rosenblum’s films include ”America and Lewis Hine” and ”Through the Wire.”

Will tighten procedures

Expressing regret that WNET did not detect the film’s ”deficiencies,” Chancey described two changes in its production standards and practices that are designed to ensure accuracy in all future projects. ”We will request documentation of all assertions of fact before giving the green light to independent producers,” he said, and the station will add a warranty clause to its contracts that ”holds [filmmakers] responsible for documentation of their assertion of fact.”

Both measures are already in place for future contracts, Chancey said, and WNET is reviewing documentary projects in the works ”to make sure everything can be substantiated.” WNET also requested that its name be removed from the film’s production credits on videocassette copies of ”Liberators.”

”We have a responsiblity as a public television station to guarantee the accuracy of the material that we present … and use the public television airwaves to distribute.” The procedural changes are ”nothing more” than WNET saying ”this is how we will attempt to live by that trust with our audience with every program.”

”We are not raising the standard to the unattainable, but reestablishing the standard as appropriate,” Chancey added.

Judy Crichton, executive producer for the American Experience, commended WNET ”for doing a review that is as thorough as this. I am saddened by the findings but it was essential that the review be done.”

”Where we have tightened our own processes is in terms of being far more careful about work in progress,” said Crichton.

The history series, which already has standards that require producers to work substantively with academic advisors, initially turned down an opportunity to pick up ”Liberators,” but later was asked by WNET to reconsider the film, according to Crichton. ”Because of the power of the story, we agreed, and when we came in, it was what we call an ‘acquisition’=one of the very few films not produced from the start, not commissioned by the American Experience.”

”We were under the assumption that similar standards were being applied,” she explained. ”If there is any remaining fault in terms of American Experience, it is that I did not personally push the producers harder than I did to confirm that those standards were met,” added Crichton. ”I was under the impression during the time I worked with the producers that they were being met.”

Renewed faith ”a little”

For the most part, critics of the film expressed satisfaction with the results of WNET’s review.

”The outcome shows what I thought it would show,” said Kenneth Stern, a researcher for the American Jewish Committee whose investigation of the accuracy of ”Liberators” damaged the film’s credibility. Continuing to withhold the film is ”absolutely the proper thing” to do. ”If the film is flawed, it shouldn’t be shown.”

” ‘Pleased’ is the only word that comes to mind,” said Robert Abzug, professor of American studies at the University of Texas at Austin, who Miles Educational Films cited as its historical advisor although his most substantive involvement with the project was critiquing the text of the companion book.

Abzug was impressed by his contact with the review team, but he admitted being doubtful about what their final conclusions would be. ”I worried that various other input would moderate what conclusions they were heading toward.” When WNET announced its findings publicly, ”it renewed my faith a little about decision-making in public television.”

A World War II veteran who tried to inform WNET that ”Liberators” was historically inaccurate before the film aired nationally, retired Col. James Moncrief, expressed ”very mixed feelings” about WNET’s announcement. ”At long last they’ve admitted the errors and made a public statement about it,” he said. Moncrief said he sent two letters to the station prior to the film’s national airdate, even though he didn’t know to whom he should address his correspondence.

”What I’m concerned about more than anything else, is that PBS has done nothing toward admitting their participation in the falsification. They’ve stonewalled.”

PBS did issue a statement on WNET’s review, characterizing the situation as ”regrettable” and expressing support for the review, its findings and WNET’s decision to continue to withhold the film.

”PBS’s mission is to provide reliable information at all times,” said PBS in the statement, attributed to no particular spokesperson. ”We apologize to our viewers for the inaccuracies in the film, and especially to those who felt compromised by these flaws. We resolve to give our programs more careful scrutiny in the future.”

Accuracy is one of many qualities that PBS programmers evaluate when they screen all programs for distribution, said PBS spokesman Harry Forbes. ”Obviously, given the limitations of time, resources and staffing, every program can’t be analyzed down to the smallest detail.”

”It is very much true that when you have a known commodity like the American Experience, Bill Miles and WNET, we assume that everything is being checked,” Forbes added.


Holocaust liberator from San Antonio haunted by memories

Holocaust survivor Anna Rado (left) presents Gerd Miller with the “Texas Liberator Medal” during a ceremony by the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission at the Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio. The commission honored Miller, a World War II veteran from San Antonio, for helping to liberate the Dachau, Ebensee and Mauthausen concentration camps.

/Carlos Javier Sanchez / Contributor Show More Show Less

Gerd Miller and his wife, Dorothy, see someone they know before a ceremony begins Monday, organized by The Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission to honor Miller, a World War II veteran from San Antonio, for helping to liberate the Dachau, Ebensee and Mauthausen concentration camps.

/Carlos Javier Sanchez / Contributor Show More Show Less

The “Texas Liberator Medal” is presented to World War II veterans from Texas who helped liberate the Dachau, Ebensee and Mauthausen concentration camps. It was presented Monday to Gerd Miller of San Antonio by the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission at a ceremony at the Holocaust Memorial in San Antonio.

/Carlos Javier Sanchez / Contributor Show More Show Less

Gerd Miller, center, is surrounded by family members and other medal recipients at a ceremony organized by the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission honoring Miller, a World War II veteran from San Antonio, for helping to liberate the Dachau, Ebensee and Mauthausen concentration camps.

/Carlos Javier Sanchez / Contributor Show More Show Less

Gerd Miller, stands next to his World War II-era military portrait after a ceremony Monday by The Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission honoring Miller, a World War II veteran from San Antonio, for helping to liberate the Dachau, Ebensee and Mauthausen concentration camps.

/Carlos Javier Sanchez / Contributor Show More Show Less

Gerd Miller, a World War II veteran from San Antonio, smiles as he’s honored Monday by the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission for helping to liberate the Dachau, Ebensee and Mauthausen concentration camps.

/Carlos Javier Sanchez / Contributor Show More Show Less

Gerd Miller, 96, sometimes still wakes up at night, stirred from sleep by lingering memories of the horrific smells and sights that awaited him at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany nearly 74 years ago.

&ldquoIt was such a horrible thing that if I were to tell you about it, I would think that maybe three or four people here would know what I&rsquom talking about,&rdquo he told about 50 people at a ceremony Monday in the Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio, paying tribute to the &ldquoTexas Liberators&rdquo &mdash U.S. soldiers who entered the camps and tried to helped the ravaged, starving prisoners still clinging to life.

Miller, a San Antonian and one of the more than 400 U.S. troops from the Lone Star State who entered the camps as Allied forces swept across Europe near the end of World War II, has described the situation at the Dachau, Ebensee, and Mauthausen concentration camps as &ldquohell on earth.&rdquo

The smell of death, from 40 railcars filled with bodies at Dachau, and images of emaciated prisoners who looked like &ldquowalking skeletons&rdquo remain seared in his mind.

Dachau had 32,000 people &mdash more than six times the number it was built for &mdash who had been left by the Nazis to slowly die.

&ldquoThey had run out of poison gas. They had run out of fuel for the crematorium. And the smell was just horrible,&rdquo said Miller, one of 21 Texas Liberators whose oral histories are highlighted through the Texas Liberator Project, a research and education initiative of the 10-year-old Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission.

The commission had wrapped up its quarterly meeting in San Antonio shortly before the presentation in the museum, located at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Campus of the San Antonio Jewish Community.

Fran Berg, THGC commissioner, said many of the liberators never had talked about their nightmarish experiences before the project began in 2011. Her father-in-law, Lee H. Berg, who recorded his war experiences on video before he died in 2006, was one of the service members whose post-war accounts negate the claims of Holocaust deniers, she said.

&ldquoWhat we learned from our fathers &mdash each story is somewhat different as you liberated different camps. But the theme was always the same. Man&rsquos inhumanity to man,&rdquo Berg said. &ldquoNo one can deny the testimony of American soldiers who were witnesses to these atrocities.&rdquo

Jonathan Gurwitz, who was appointed to the 15-member commission in the fall as one of three people from San Antonio, said the project, with a book supplied to every school in Texas, traveling and online exhibits and a website, supports efforts to educate people on the Holocaust and genocide, especially outside of San Antonio and other large cities with Holocaust museums.

During its meeting earlier Monday, the commission had heard from Laredo educators about a Texas Liberator&rsquos recent visit to speak to high school students in that border city.

&ldquoIt was a moving experience, and it was one that anyone who was there will never forget,&rdquo Gurwitz said.

Commission Chairwoman Lynne Aronoff said the common goal of the commissioners is &ldquoconveying the message that the ethical choices all of us make as individuals, and as a nation, will shape history and the way future generations remember us.&rdquo

&ldquoWe teach Texans about the darkest moments of human history: the targeting of innocent people in the Ottoman Empire during World War I in Nazi and Nazi-occupied Europe during the 1930s and 1940s in Cambodia during the 1970s and Rwanda and the Balkans during the 1990s and in Darfur, Iraq and Syria today,&rdquo Aronoff said.

Miller said he has great admiration and a personal connection to Holocaust survivors, including some who attended Monday&rsquos ceremony to thank and honor him. He said he wants children to know about the wartime chaos and criminal acts, whose scale is unimaginable to most people today.

To help communicate the reality that 11 million innocent people, including six millions Jews, were systematically annihilated in Europe, Miller has compared the Holocaust to 9/11, which claimed 3,000 lives. To reach the same death toll, a 9/11 tragedy would have to occur every day for more than 10 years, he said.

&ldquoI&rsquom glad to see the emphasis on teaching the young people, the younger generation, what it was all about. Because a lot of them have absolutely no idea what it was like,&rdquo Miller told the audience. &ldquoThe most important thing to remind the young people about is to keep themselves informed, to read, to study and keep in mind: never again.&rdquo


Herman Cohn, Hyde Park tailor and WWII liberator, dead at 94

As a German-born Jew in the American Army in World War II Europe, Herman Cohn was a Holocaust survivor, liberator and avenger.

While guarding SS prisoners, he met an officer whose uniform showed he was part of the Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler, personal bodyguards to the fuhrer. Mr. Cohn used his command of German — and the point of a gun — to tell the officer to grab a shovel and start digging latrines. The officer appeared baffled.

“I told him that if he as much as moved a foot away from digging that latrine that I would shoot him,” Herman Cohn later recalled. “I told him I was a Jew — a German Jew, I told him. And he kept on digging, let me tell you.”

He also helped seize Nazi leaders’ homes so they could be used as lodging for American forces. One haughty German matron swept down the spiral staircase of her villa to object. Mr. Cohn told her to be out by 5 p.m. He was in no mood to negotiate. The matron’s son was a top SS officer, and Mr. Cohn had just received a letter from home informing him that his 84-year-old German grandmother had most likely perished after a deportation of Jews.

Herman Cohn (left) and his brother Wally during World War II. | Family photo

When the matron huffed in protest, he pushed up the time of eviction from 5 o’clock to 2 p.m.

Returning to his hometown of Essen, he located a Nazi overseer who’d bled money from his father’s business. He had him arrested.

One of the worst days he served was at Dachau. After the German concentration camp was liberated, he accompanied a chaplain. He saw 500 bodies in a common grave and furnaces filled with human bones.

“There wasn’t enough coal to burn all the people they killed,” he wrote to his wife in a May 1945 letter which he read in testimony to the USC Shoah Foundation in 1996.

Resilient and witty, Mr. Cohn became a respected men’s tailor in Hyde Park. When he spotted customers in the obituaries, he’d remark, “He was a 44 long.” Or: “He was a 39 short.”

One of his proudest moments occurred at a wake for a customer laid out in one of his suits.

“I want you to see my husband,” said the widow. “He’s never looked better.”

Mr. Cohn died March 21 at Montgomery Place in Hyde Park. He was 94.

Herman Cohn and his wife Elsa, a fellow German immigrant he met in Chicago. | Family photo

In Essen, he’d been raised in comfort. His father owned a linen manufacturer.

“We had a maid, we had a cleaning woman, we had a governess. We had a chauffeur,” he said in his Shoah testimony.

He once saw Hitler drive through Essen, surrounded by excited throngs.

“He came, standing up in a convertible, raised his hands in the German salute,” Mr. Cohn recalled. “There was a charisma you can’t believe. The people were just — like an angel from heaven came down the street.”

Then came Kristallnacht — the 1938 “Night of Broken Glass,” when anti-Semitic mobs destroyed Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues. Gestapo members beat young Herman and threatened him with the place he’d later help liberate.

“We’re going to teach you how to dig coal, how to carry bricks, and all of this you will learn at Dachau,” one told him.

At 17, he fled to the Netherlands. His family followed. In 1939, the Cohns arrived in America, settling in Chicago. Three years later, Herman Cohn enlisted in the Army.

Herman Cohn, who trained as a tailor in Europe before World War II, operated this longtime men’s clothing store in Hyde Park with partner Eric Stern. | Family photo

After the war, he opened a Hyde Park business that became known as Cohn & Stern mens’ store. Patrons included Olympic hero Jesse Owens and University of Chicago stars, including Nobel prize-winning economists Robert Fogel and Milton Friedman, as well as George P. Shultz, who served in the Nixon and Reagan administrations. He tailored clothes to accommodate the muscles of White Sox stars Nellie Fox, Billy Pierce, Minnie Minoso and Luis Aparicio, as well as owner Bill Veeck. He dressed politicians including Harold Washington, Abner Mikva and Leon Despres.

“It wasn’t just a place to come and buy clothing,” said his daughter, Joyce Feuer. “It was unbelievable how many people would just come to the store and chit-chat, like a barber shop.”

Elsa and Herman Cohn. | Wedding photo

At Chicago’s Jewish Center, he met another German immigrant, Elsa Kahn. Their first date was a picnic at Promontory Point at Burnham Park. They were married in 1944. Until her death in 2009, “She was his queen,” their daughter said.

In his later years, Mr. Cohn went to schools to teach children about the Holocaust. He returned to Germany last year, when the History Channel filmed a program on the liberators of Dachau.

Mr. Cohn is also survived by sons Howard Cohn and Dr. David Cohn, six grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and his sweetheart, Margot Eisenhammer. Services have been held.

Herman Cohn on a return trip to Dachau in 2015, sponsored by the History Channel, seen here with German schoolchildren who listened to his liberator’s tale. | Family photo

Herman Cohn (center) with his sons Dr. David Cohn (left) and Howard Cohn (right) at a German beer hall. The History Channel invited him and other veterans back to Germany in 2015 to film a program on liberators of concentration camps. | Family photo

Herman Cohn autographing a History Channel poster for a program on concentration camp liberators. | Family photo


Remembering the Horrors of Dachau

The gate at Dachau concentration camp bears the infamous motto "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Makes You Free). This was the only entrance to the camp for prisoners.

Prisoners waved to their liberators as U.S. troops arrived at Dachau in April 1945. DPA/Corbis hide caption

Prisoners waved to their liberators as U.S. troops arrived at Dachau in April 1945.

Freeing Dachau

James Shiels stands next to a British half-track vehicle similar to the American version that he used when his Army unit helped liberate Dachau subcamps in April 1945. Courtesy of the Shiels family hide caption

James Shiels stands next to a British half-track vehicle similar to the American version that he used when his Army unit helped liberate Dachau subcamps in April 1945.

Courtesy of the Shiels family

Seventy-five years ago, Nazi police chief Heinrich Himmler announced the opening of the first Nazi concentration camp for political prisoners, ushering in one of the most tragic chapters in modern history.

Dachau, located about 10 miles northwest of Munich, opened in March 1933, weeks after Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. Initially, most prisoners were opponents of the Nazi government, including Communists, trade unionists and Social Democrats.

But by 1938, there were about 10,000 Jewish prisoners at Dachau. It eventually would hold as many as 188,000 prisoners, and the Nazis used Dachau as a model and training center for its other concentration camps.

As at other Nazi camps, the conditions at Dachau were deplorable. Prisoners were used not only for forced labor, but for medical experiments by German doctors. Dachau was divided into two areas — the living quarters and the crematoria. An electrified barbed-wire fence, a ditch and a wall with seven guard towers surrounded the camp.

When American forces liberated Dachau and its subcamps on April 29, 1945, at least 28,000 prisoners had perished, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. But many more unregistered prisoners were unaccounted for, and it is likely that the total number of victims will never be known.

James Shiels, then a 19-year-old soldier with the 14th Armored Division, was one of the Americans who helped free thousands of Dachau prisoners. Shiels' unit took part in liberating Dauchau subcamps, and he spoke with Liane Hansen about what he saw there — and why he went back in 2006 with two generations of his family.


The forgotten soldiers behind Netflix’s ‘The Liberator’

The men of the 45th Infantry Division fought for each other, as all soldiers do, but they also fought for their country. Not for what it was — with its segregation, its double standards, and its signs in front of businesses saying who could shop or eat or drink there — but for what it could be.

In the opening moments of Netflix’s new animated series The Liberator, the narrator introduces viewers to the men of the 45th Infantry Division, “most of whom couldn’t drink together in the same bars back home.”

But in July 1943 they weren’t back home. The 45th Infantry Division dubbed the “Thunderbirds” were at the beginning of a journey that would span the breadth of the European theater of World War II, from the earliest days of the United States’ involvement to its end.

After training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where they learned to shoot and fight, to follow and lead, to be soldiers together, they shipped off to Europe. Once there, they took part in the Italian Campaign, beginning with the Invasion of Sicily. Then it was on to Anzio, where they endured artillery bombardments and blunted the enemy’s attacks on their lines. Next to France and later to frigid mountains in Germany, and deeper into Bavaria and the heart of the Third Reich, through some of the bloodiest street-to-street fighting of the war. And finally, they reached the gates of Dachau Concentration Camp, and one of the unit’s darkest moments. Their advance across Europe came at a great cost. By the war’s end, the Thunderbirds had suffered more than 10,500 casualties in under two years.

For more than 500 days in combat, they had braved all manner of violence and death. They fought together, killed together, and died together.

Among the Army’s 45th Infantry Division were the 157th, 179th, and 180th Regiments, whose members had come from across the American West: from New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Arizona. Some were mountaineers, others were ranchers and the sons of cowboys. They were white Americans, Mexican Americans, and Native Americans from more than 50 tribes. In all likelihood, theirs was one of the most diverse units of the war.

They fought for each other, as all soldiers do, but they also fought for their country. Not for what it was — with its segregation, its double standards, and its signs in front of businesses saying who could shop or eat or drink there — but for what it could be.

“A lot of these guys in this unit had come from different Americas and they were fighting for different ideas of what America stood for,” said Alex Kershaw, the author of The Liberator, which served as the basis for Netflix’s series by the same name.

Kershaw’s 2012 nonfiction book was based on his interviews with veterans of the unit and chronicles the bloody odyssey of the 157th Infantry Regiment during World War II, culminating in the liberation of Dachau, a concentration camp in Bavaria, and the killing of Nazi SS prisoners.

Both the book and the show follow the service and exploits of Felix Sparks, a Silver Star recipient who rose from the commander of E Company up through the 157th’s ranks, and who as a second lieutenant was one of only two men from his unit to survive the Battle of Anzio after being cut off by German forces.

“I always saw him as the main character, but also as a vehicle to tell a broader story about that amazing regiment, and also the Thunderbird Division, which was an incredible division and to put that in a broader context of the liberation of Western Europe,” Kershaw said. “Because they were there at the very beginning on the 10th of July, 1943 and they were at Dachau at the end, literally, a week before the end of the war. By telling that story, I could tell the story of the liberation of Europe, too.”

The series, much like the original source material, uses Sparks as a vehicle to tell the story of the 157th Infantry Regiment while spotlighting the service and sacrifice of a highly decorated and racially diverse infantry division that’s often overlooked in pop-culture depictions of World War II.

After reviewing the four-part miniseries by Jeb Stuart (Die Hard, The Fugitive), Task & Purpose had a chance to chat with Kershaw about the real-life soldiers who endured some of the most savage combat of the European theater, and whose service and sacrifice was for too long forgotten.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Task & Purpose: What drew you to Felix Sparks and the 157th?

Alex Kershaw: I came across an image on Google of Dachau and it showed Felix Sparks. It’s a Signal Corps’ cameraman’s image of him firing his pistol into the air. It’s in the Dachau coal yard on the 29th of April, 1945. It shows him, literally, it shows him firing his colt and thrusting his hand out in the air.

What he’s doing is he’s stopping his men from killing SS soldiers who’ve been lined up against the wall in the coal yard. I was just absolutely fascinated by that. Number one, it was an incredibly beautiful image of a guy in a very intense moment of his life, a moment that defined who he was.

It showed him to be a fantastic officer, to be a man of great honor and integrity. Because what he found in Dachau was so mind-blowing and so disgusting. That to stop that, yes, a good officer should stop a killing like that. But then, again, you wouldn’t blame anybody for wanting to kill the SS that they found there that day when there’s literally thousands and thousands of bodies rotting all around them and Dachau was an incredibly horrific place.

That image really fascinated me, I was like, “Who the hell is that guy?”

T&P: You had a chance to meet Felix Sparks. What was he like in real life? Did the series capture his personality or nature accurately?

AK: I think they captured a lot of it. I met him and he was a very big guy in every way. He was dying when I met him and he was in a lot of pain.

But he was quite an angry guy. He was very outspoken about some stuff. He hadn’t been impressed by a lot of the senior commanders that he’d served under, and he said that to me. He was a hard ass. I don’t think in the Netflix show you see his real rage. He’s not quite the hard-ass that he was in real life. He’s all business. There’s a guy still alive called Carl Mann who was Sparks’ translator, and I interviewed Carl and I said, “What was Sparks like? You spent six months in a Jeep with him.”

He said, “You know what, Sparks never ever talked about his family, he never talked about anything but getting the job done. He’s all business all the time. He was just really just about getting the job done and getting it done as fast as possible.

At the beginning of the war, he didn’t have any problems with people being disciplined very harshly. There was one thing that I quoted in the book where there was a bunch of guys that he had to take over a group of guys that had been disciplined and literally get them out of the slammer. They were a rough lot, and he was quoted as saying that he got some of his sergeants to rough these guys up and kick them into shape. He says “it probably wasn’t legal but it sure as hell worked.”

This guy was not the softest.

T&P: I was wondering about that. That was in the show, but they made it seem like a Dirty Dozen reference, where he gets them out of the brig, whips them into shape, and it’s this moment where they all come together as a unit.

AK: That’s true.

T&P: But they left out the asskicking?

AK: Yeah, they left out that part. They left out someone getting kicked in the ass really hard. Yeah.

But when I went to the reunion and stuff, everyone just said that the thing about Sparks was that you knew that he’d look after you. The reality was that you just didn’t want to die, you didn’t want to have your life wasted. You didn’t want to take orders from someone that was going to get you killed unnecessarily. He was a sure hand. Sparks was someone that thought about minimizing casualties.

The job had to be done, and his decisions every day got people killed.

But he was trying to bring people home, and there were a couple of occasions in the war when people had been in combat for an awfully long time, and he’s trying to get them pushed out of the unit or put them somewhere else where they wouldn’t get killed.

There was a certain amount of time that people spent, and he felt that was it. If they went for three or four months, it was time to put them somewhere safer. Time to give them a break, to try to transfer them out of the unit. He was aware of things like that, that there was only so much that these guys could take.

He was calm under pressure, very calm. I think that’s the universal fear of all officers that the first time they lead men in combat is “are they going to let them down? Are they going to be able to do the job?” They’re more afraid, in many cases, of failure than they are of being killed by the enemy. The last thing they want to do is look like a coward.

They want to be able to do the job and earn the respect of their men, and Sparks was good at that.

T&P: Tell me about the soldiers who served in the 157th. What made it such a diverse group and was that was unique at the time?

AK: The 157th [Infantry Regiment] and the 45th [Infantry Division] drew from New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Arizona, so very much the American West. That connection meant that there were a large number of Native Americans and the 45th had more Native Americans in it than any other American Division. They had over 1,500 Native Americans who left for Europe in a division. There was a disproportionate number of Native Americans compared to other American combat units in World War II.

Then there were also a large number of Mexican Americans, again, because of where the unit was drawn from and quite a few of those guys couldn’t speak very good English. They had to have their buddies write letters in English to get past the censor.

So you got a combination of cowboys from Oklahoma and rural Denver and rural Colorado, New Mexico, etc. You’ve got Native Americans, and you’ve got Mexican Americans and a lot of dirt poor kids from the West that grew up in terrible poverty during the Depression. You put them all together and you end up with the 45th [Infantry Division]. Then you end up obviously with one of the three regiments, which was the 157th.

A lot of these guys in this unit had come from different Americas and they were fighting for different ideas of what America stood for.

I think that’s one of the wonderful things about it is when you look at the Netflix show and when you look at the faces of the guys in photographs from that Infantry Regiment and the Division, they are Mexican American, they’re Native American, they’re white. It’s not just the white victory we’re talking about here and the white unit. In Band of Brothers, it’s mostly white guys that win that war.

That’s the image you get from The Longest Day and almost all World War II movies and miniseries and such things like that. “White America won World War II,” well, white America did win World War II, but Black and Latino and Mexican Americans and Native Americans, they all won it too. When you look at, certainly, the 45th Infantry Division, there were as many Native Americans and Mexican Americans as there were white rural cowboys.

T&P: When you hear about all that they accomplished — more than 500 consecutive days in combat from Italy to France to Germany — it’s surprising that their story isn’t widely known. Why do you think that is?

AK: I think there are two things going on there. Number one is the fact that they were forgotten in World War II. They were even disparaged as the so-called “D-Day Dodgers.”

AK: There was a song that was famous at the time, the D-Day Dodgers, and that came from, I think, that’s Lady Astor, who was an American who became a British [Member of Partliament]. She complained about “what the hell were they doing in Italy still and the real fight was in Normandy.”

What happened was that Sparks had been in three amphibious invasions before June the 6th, 1944, and Rome was liberated by the Thunderbirds and by other elements of the 5th Army, 3rd Division, 36th Infantry Division, and Brits, etc. It fell on the 4th of June 1944, and this is the first Axis capital to be liberated. It was a big deal. It was a huge deal. That fame and that glory only lasted for 48 hours because then you have the 6th of June 1944, which was D-Day.

Everything shifted then to Normandy, to the Battle of the Bulge, Operation Market Garden. It all became Northwestern Europe and the guys that fought all the way through to that terrible campaign — it was very, very bloody, and it was a complete nightmare — it was all kind of forgotten in the American press at the time.

It was partly because of history, the way it played out, and they became the Forgotten Army, the Ghost Army.

T&P: Do me a favor, describe the 157th Infantry Regiment in just a few words.

AK: Yeah, eager for duty.

Their motto was “eager for duty,” and they were, and they were astonishing. They were just a fantastic outfit. They saved the day at Anzio. The 157th was right on the line on Anzio, actually, during Operation Fischfang which began on the 16th of February 1944.

If it wasn’t for the 157th sitting there and getting the hell beaten out of them and fighting like crazy, the Allies would, probably, have failed at Anzio and they would have been kicked back into the sea and that would have been a terrible military disaster.

But their heroism and their fortitude were just extraordinary, especially, at Anzio.

James Clarkis the Deputy Editor of Task & Purpose and a Marine veteran. He oversees daily editorial operations, edits articles, and supports reporters so they can continue to write the impactful stories that matter to our audience. In terms of writing, James provides a mix of pop culture commentary and in-depth analysis of issues facing the military and veterans community. Contact the author here.


The Liberators - Return to Dachau - HISTORY

Wikimedia Commons Polish prisoners in Dachau toast their liberation from the camp.

Dachau concentration camp, located in the state of Bavaria, Germany, was the first concentration camp established by the Nazi regime.

On April 29, 1945, Dachau was liberated by the U.S seventh Army’s 45th Infantry Division.

Wikimedia Commons Corpses of prisoners in the Dachau death trains. 1945.

But it wasn’t just liberated. Reports indicated that, appalled by what they saw, members of the U.S army were driven to take revenge. They allegedly murdered the SS officers and guards who were responsible for the Holocaust horrors that took place at Dachau.

The troops arrived at the Dachau concentration camp in the afternoon. They were on their way to Munich which was just over ten miles from Dachau. Though the troops passed through Dachau, it wasn’t initially a part of the attack zones they were headed for.

Wikimedia Commons American soldiers execute SS camp guards who have been lined up against a wall during the liberation of Dachau concentration camp.

There was a railway siding en route to the entrance of Dachau, along which there were 40 railway wagons. All of the wagons were filled entirely with emaciated human corpses. According to the U.S. Army, there were 2,310 dead bodies.

Nearby was the kiln of burning bodies. The stench of death permeated the air.

The actual events that took place after Dachau was liberated are shrouded in mystery. This can be attested to the fact that soldiers who were present during the liberation of the Dachau Concentration Camp recounted the events of the day in very different ways.

After word of American soldiers killing SS Guards at Dachau spread, an investigation was ordered by Lt. Col. Joseph Whitaker. The “Investigation of Alleged Mistreatment of German Guards at Dachau” as it was called produced documents that were marked “secret.” Soldiers spoke under sworn testimony and in the aftermath were inclined to speak little more of whatever happened at the Dachau Concentration Camp after it was liberated.

Felix L. Sparks was a general who wrote a personal account of the events.

General Sparks wrote that, despite more exaggerated claims, “the total number of German guards killed at Dachau during that day most certainly not exceed fifty, with thirty probably being a more accurate figure.”

Wikimedia Commons Closeup of the bodies of SS personnel lying at the base of the tower from which American soldiers had initially come under attack by a German machine gun.

Col. Howard A. Buechner was a medical officer with the 3rd Battalion for the 45th division and in 1986 he put out a book, The Hour of the Avenger. In his book, Buechner recounts his own version of what happened on April 29, 1945. Specifically the “deliberate killing of 520 Prisoners of War by American soldiers.” Buechner paints the picture of a mass execution in direct violation of the Geneva Convention.

In the book, Buechner’s states that there were only 19 American soldiers who witnessed the Dachau massacre, and at the time of the book’s publishing, only three were certain to be alive.

However, when reports from the initial investigation were made public in 1991, it came to light that Beuchner’s account did not match the sworn testimony he gave.

Another account of the day came from Abram Sachar, who in the book The Day of the Americans said:

“Some of the Nazis were rounded up and summarily executed along with the guard dogs. Two of the most notorious prison guards had been stripped naked before the Americans arrived to prevent them from slipping away unnoticed. They, too, were cut down.”

It wasn’t just the American soldiers who reportedly took revenge on the SS guards. It was the inmates too.

One of the prisoners, Walenty Lenarczyk, said that immediately following the liberation the prisoners gained a newfound sense of courage. They caught the SS men “and knocked them down and nobody could see whether they were stomped or what, but they were killed.” As Lenarczyk put it, “We were, all these years, animals to them and it was our birthday.”

There’s a reporting of two liberated prisoners beating a German guard to death with a shovel and another witnessed account of a liberated prisoner stomping repeatedly on the face of a guard.

Like stories from many wars, it may never be made entirely clear what transpired after Dachau was liberated.

U.S. Holocaust Museum/Wikimedia Commons View of prisoners’ barracks in Dachau concentration camp. 1945.

Due to the extensive records kept by the Nazis during the Holocaust, there is a great deal of public knowledge available on the Dachau Concentration Camp itself.

We know that it was divided into two sections: the camp area made up of 32 barracks and the crematoria area.

The records show that there were extensive medical experiments done on prisoners at Dachau, which included tests for halting excessive bleeding, and high-altitude experiments using a decompression chamber.

A few days before the liberation, 7,000 prisons were ordered on a death march from Dachau to Tegernsee. Anyone who couldn’t keep up was shot by German soldiers. Many perished from exhaustion and hunger along the way.

Between 1933 and 1945, there were over 188,000 prisoners at Dachau. A number of unregistered prisoners were there as well though, thus the total number of prisoners and victims who died will likely remain unknown.

30,000 prisoners were liberated. Jack Goldman was liberated at Dachau and became a U.S. Veteran of the Korean War. His father was killed in Auschwitz.

Goldman reflected on the Dachau liberation, the subsequent events that transpired, and the idea of vengeance. Though he doesn’t preach hatred, he understood the feelings of those prisoners.

“I knew men in camp who had sworn by everything that was holy to them that if they ever got out that they would kill every German in sight. They had to watch their wives mutilated. They had to watch their babies tossed in the air and shot.”

One vivid memory Goldman recalled from the liberation was the American troops taking their names. He said, “For the first time, we were no longer numbers.”

After learning of the Dachau massacre following its liberation, you may want to read about the database that puts human faces to the guards at Auschwitz. Then take a look at heartbreaking photos inside the only all-female concentration camp.


Artifacts Related to Liberation

On 27 January 1945, Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army. By that date, over 1.3 million individuals had been deported there, some 90% of whom were murdered in the gas chambers on arrival. The liberators found thousands of surviving prisoners in the camp, including children.

"On 5 May 1945 the first American soldiers appeared at the gates of the camp… the sight of people who did not intend to kill or beat us, was so strange and amazing to us… A very heavy rain began to fall, I stood up and I began to cry. I cried, not because I remembered what I had endured, but because I realized that I had nowhere to go and that I was alone. I had nowhere to go and now I had to rebuild my life alone. I cried so hard. This was the first time that I had cried."

(Aryeh Mühlrad)

At the war's end, hundreds of thousands of Jews all over Europe were in poor physical condition and completely destitute. When they were liberated, most survivors owned nothing but the rags they were wearing.

As they recuperated physically, the survivors sought shirts, shoes, toothbrushes. These items were tremendously important to them as they restored the survivors' feelings of self-worth and dignity. With the help of these items, they felt they could return to society and leave behind a world in which the Nazis and their collaborators had attempted to rob them of their humanity and reduce them to numbers.

The first items the survivors picked up, received or created reflected the small human moments of their return to normal life and became symbols of their liberation. Several of these artifacts express the survivors' emotions when they were liberated after the hell that they had undergone. Others paint a picture of the atmosphere in the first days of liberation. Some of the items testify to the bond that was formed between the survivors and the soldiers who freed them, and all of them together create a mosaic that depicts the transformation from life under the terror of the Nazi regime to life as free human beings.

"I found one little Jew there, a red-headed Polish Jew, who was cooking potatoes using a German Army helmet… this was a sign of our liberation."

(Leo Goldner)

Shaving brush that Yaacov (Jacki) Handeli received from American soldiers when he was liberated at Bergen-Belsen

Sweater that the child András Brichta took from the clothing storehouse in Auschwitz-Birkenau after the Germans fled the camp

Doll that Shoshana Friedman bought for her daughter Yehudit after the war, to replace the doll that she had with her in the Budapest ghetto

Tefillin (phylacteries) that Mordechai Moskovits and his sons received from a Jewish cemetery guard in Munich after their liberation at the Allach-Dachau camp

Bag that Berta Lebovits found in Bergen-Belsen when she was liberated

Birthday card made by three Auschwitz prisoners, found after the camp's liberation

Sweater that Gucia Wald Teiblum knitted in the Bergen-Belsen DP camp using two wooden sticks, and wool unraveled from the socks of German soldiers

Truncheon that young Shlomo Resnik took from a German soldier's vehicle on the day he was liberated from the Dachau concentration camp

Watch that was given to Sarah Berkman by a fellow inmate after liberation

Shirt taken by Daisy Caraso from the Auschwitz storehouses after the liberation of the camp by Red Army soldiers

Binoculars that Zoltan Deblinger took on liberation day, from an abandoned German Army cannon near the Allach camp

Blouse that Ahuva Ostereicher sewed from sheets found in a POW camp after liberation

"Precious Items" from Auschwitz Kept by Rivka Mincberg

Hitlerjugend youth movement shirts that sisters Martha and Alisa Rosenberg received in the Feldafing DP camp

Sash that the Jews in Westerbork camp gave to Adrianus Van As, when the camp was liberated by the Canadian Army

Prisoner clothing that Kalman Freireich took from the camp storeroom when he was liberated

Towel and plate that Anna Eisdorfer received from British soldiers on her liberation at Bergen-Belsen

Prisoner's coat that Ehud Walter took from the storerooms in the Buchenwald camp after liberation

Blanket, spoon and fork that Regina Lamsztein kept as mementos of her liberation at Mauthausen by American soldiers

Nightdress that Breindel Gittler made from the cloth of a parachute after her liberation from the Langenbielau camp

The suitcase that Giuseppe Di Porto found after escaping the death march

Leg-warmers from a German soldier's kitbag that Mashiach Cohen took after he was liberated at the Bergen-Belsen camp

Coat that Chaya Shwarzman Kaplan received in the Stutthof camp and had remade into a dress after the war

Diary written by Alexander Mayer after the liberation of Auschwitz on blank forms that he found in the camp

Blouse sewed for Janina Praetzel on her liberation from the Kratzau camp

Cigarette box that Alexander (Rosenberg) Ruziak made after liberation from the Buchenwald camp, stamping it with his prisoner number

Shirt which Petachia Blickstein received on his liberation from Transnistria

Wallet Presented to a Red Army Soldier by a Group of Young Girls Liberated from Auschwitz

Remnant of prisoner clothing and a cigarette coupon that Leo Goldner took when he was liberated from the Allach-Dachau concentration camp

Shorts sewn by Zipporah Gross in hospital after liberation

Headscarf that Jana Barber received on her 14th birthday, 6 May 1945

A map showing the route taken by the 42nd Division of the American Army covered with messages to the survivor Marcel Levi


Liberation

As Allied forces advanced toward Germany, the Germans began to move prisoners from concentration camps near the front to prevent the capture of intact camps and their prisoners. Transports from the evacuated camps in the east arrived continuously at Dachau, resulting in a dramatic deterioration of conditions.

After days of travel, with little or no food or water, the prisoners arrived weak and exhausted, often near death. Typhus epidemics became a serious problem due to overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, insufficient provisions, and the weakened state of the prisoners.

On April 26, 1945, as American forces approached, there were 67,665 registered prisoners in Dachau and its subcamps. More than half of this number were in the main camp. Of these, 43,350 were categorized as political prisoners, while 22,100 were Jews, with the remainder falling into various other categories. As Allied units approached, at least 25,000 prisoners from the Dachau camp system were force marched south or transported away from the camps in freight trains. During these so-called death marches, the Germans shot anyone who could no longer continue many also died of starvation, hypothermia, or exhaustion.

On April 29, 1945, American forces liberated Dachau. As they neared the camp, they found more than 30 railroad cars filled with bodies brought to Dachau, all in an advanced state of decomposition. In early May 1945, American forces liberated the prisoners who had been sent on the death march.


Dachau Concentration Camp: History & Overview

Established in March 1933, the Dachau concentration camp was the first regular concentration camp established by the Nazis in Germany. The camp was located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory near the medieval town of Dachau, about 10 miles northwest of Munich in the state of Bavaria, which is located in southern Germany. Heinrich Himmler, in his capacity as police president of Munich, officially described the camp as &ldquothe first concentration camp for political prisoners.&rdquo

Dachau served as a prototype and model for other Nazi concentration camps that followed. Its basic organization, camp layout as well as the plan for the buildings were developed by Kommandant Theodor Eicke and were applied to all later camps. He had a separate secure camp near the command center, which consisted of living quarters, administration, and army camps. Eicke himself became the chief inspector for all concentration camps, responsible for molding the others according to his model.

During the first year, the camp held about 4,800 prisoners and by 1937 the number had risen to 13,260. Initially the internees consisted primarily of German Communists, Social Democrats, and other political opponents of the Nazi regime. Over time, other groups were also interned at Dachau such as Jehovah&rsquos Witnesses, Roma (Gypsies), and homosexuals, as well as &ldquoasocials&rdquo and repeat criminals. During the early years relatively few Jews were interned in Dachau and usually because they belonged to one of the above groups or had completed prison sentences after being convicted for violating the Nuremberg Laws of 1935.


The main gate leading to the Dachau concentration camp

In early 1937, the SS, using prisoner labor, initiated construction of a large complex of buildings on the grounds of the original camp. Prisoners were forced to do this work, starting with the destruction of the old munitions factory, under terrible conditions. The construction was officially completed in mid-August 1938 and the camp remained essentially unchanged until 1945. Dachau thus remained in operation for the entire period of the Third Reich. The area in Dachau included other SS facilities beside the concentration camp&mdasha leader school of the economic and civil service, the medical school of the SS, etc. The KZ (Konzentrationslager) at that time was called a &ldquoprotective custody camp,&rdquo and occupied less than half of the area of the entire complex.

The number of Jewish prisoners at Dachau rose with the increased persecution of Jews and on November 10-11, 1938, in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, more than 10,000 Jewish men were interned there. (Most of men in this group were released after incarceration of a few weeks to a few months.)

The Dachau camp was a training center for SS concentration camp guards, and the camp&rsquos organization and routine became the model for all Nazi concentration camps. The camp was divided into two sections &mdash the camp area and the crematoria area. The camp area consisted of 32 barracks, including one for clergy imprisoned for opposing the Nazi regime and one reserved for medical experiments. The camp administration was located in the gatehouse at the main entrance. The camp area had a group of support buildings, containing the kitchen, laundry, showers, and workshops, as well as a prison block (Bunker). The courtyard between the prison and the central kitchen was used for the summary execution of prisoners. An electrified barbed-wire fence, a ditch, and a wall with seven guard towers surrounded the camp.

In 1942, the crematorium area was constructed next to the main camp. It included the old crematorium and the new crematorium (Barrack X) with a gas chamber. There is no credible evidence that the gas chamber in Barrack X was used to murder human beings. Instead, prisoners underwent &ldquoselection&rdquo those who were judged too sick or weak to continue working were sent to the Hartheim &ldquoeuthanasia&rdquo killing center near Linz, Austria. Several thousand Dachau prisoners were murdered at Hartheim. Further, the SS used the firing range and the gallows in the crematoria area as killing sites for prisoners.

In Dachau, as in other Nazi camps, German physicians performed medical experiments on prisoners, including high-altitude experiments using a decompression chamber, malaria and tuberculosis experiments, hypothermia experiments, and experiments testing new medications. Prisoners were also forced to test methods of making seawater potable and of halting excessive bleeding. Hundreds of prisoners died or were permanently crippled as a result of these experiments.

Prisoners were tortured in other ways as well. For exaample, prisoners would be hung on a tree with their arms strung up behind them to maximize the pain. As in other camps, prisoners were forced to stand for long periods while a roll call was conducted. The camp orchestra would play and the SS sometimes made the prisoners sing.

Dachau prisoners were used as forced laborers. At first, they were employed in the operation of the camp, in various construction projects, and in small handicraft industries established in the camp. Prisoners built roads, worked in gravel pits, and drained marshes. During the war, forced labor utilizing concentration camp prisoners became increasingly important to German armaments production.

Dachau also served as the central camp for Christian religious prisoners. According to records of the Roman Catholic Church, at least 3,000 religious, deacons, priests, and bishops were imprisoned there.

In August 1944 a women&rsquos camp opened inside Dachau. Its first shipment of women came from Auschwitz-Birkenau. Only 19 women guards served at Dachau, most of them until liberation.


The prisoner's barracks at Dachau in 1945

In the last months of the war, the conditions at Dachau became even worse. As Allied forces advanced toward Germany, the Germans began to move prisoners in concentration camps near the front to more centrally located camps. They hoped to prevent the liberation of large numbers of prisoners. Transports from the evacuated camps arrived continuously at Dachau. After days of travel with little or no food or water, the prisoners arrived weak and exhausted, often near death. Typhus epidemics became a serious problem as a result of overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, insufficient provisions, and the weakened state of the prisoners.

Owing to continual new transportations from the front, the camp was constantly overcrowded and the hygiene conditions were beneath human dignity. Starting from the end of 1944 up to the day of liberation, 15,000 people died, about half of all victims in KZ Dachau. Five hundred Soviet POWs were executed by firing squad.

In the summer and fall of 1944, to increase war production, satellite camps under the administration of Dachau were established near armaments factories throughout southern Germany. Dachau alone had more than 30 large subcamps in which over 30,000 prisoners worked almost exclusively on armaments. Thousands of prisoners were worked to death.

Commanders of Dachau

  • SS-Standartenführer Hilmar Wäckerle (03/22/1933 - 06/26/1933)
  • SS-Gruppenführer Theodor Eicke (06/26/1933 - 04/07/1934)
  • SS-Oberführer Alexander Reiner (04/07/1934 - 10/22/1934)
  • SS-Brigadeführer Berthold Maack (10/22/1934 - 01/12/1934)
  • SS-Oberführer Heinrich Deubel (01/12/1934 - 03/31/1936)
  • SS-Oberführer Hans Loritz (03/31/1936 - 01/07/1939)
  • SS-Hauptsturmführer Alex Piorkowski (01/07/1939 - 01/02/1942)
  • SS-Obersturmbannführer Martin Weiss (01/03/1942 - 09/30/1943)
  • SS-Hauptsturmführer Wilhelm Weiter (09/30/1943 - 04/26/1945)
  • SS-Obersturmbannführer Martin Weiss (04/26/1945 - 04/28/1945)
  • SS-Untersturmführer Johannes Otto (04/28/1945 - 04/28/1945)
  • SS-Sturmscharführer Heinrich Wicker (04/28/1945 - 04/29/1945)

The Liberation of Dachau

As Allied forces advanced toward Germany, the Germans began to more prisoners from concentration camps near the front to prevent the liberation of large numbers of prisoners. Transports from the evacuated camps arrived continuously at Dachau, resulting in a dramatic deterioration of conditions. After days of travel, with little or no food or water, the prisoners arrived weak and exhausted, near death. Typhus epidemics became a serious problem due to overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, and the weakened state of the prisoners.

On April 26, 1945, as American forces approached, there were 67,665 registered prisoners in Dachau and its subcamps. Of these, 43,350 were categorized as political prisoners, while 22,100 were Jews, with the remainder falling into various other categories. Starting that day, the Germans forced more than 7,000 prisoners, mostly Jews, on a death march from Dachau to Tegernsee far to the south. During the death march, the Germans shot anyone who could no longer continue many also died of hunger, cold, or exhaustion.

On April 29, 1945, KZ Dachau was surrendered to the American Army by SS-Sturmscharführer Heinrich Wicker. A vivid description of the surrender appears in Brig. Gen. Henning Linden&rsquos official &ldquoReport on Surrender of Dachau Concentration Camp&rdquo:

As we moved down along the west side of the concentration camp and approached the southwest corner, three people approached down the road under a flag of truce. We met these people about 75 yards north of the southwest entrance to the camp. These three people were a Swiss Red Cross representative and two SS troopers who said they were the camp commander and assistant camp commander and that they had come into the camp on the night of the 28th to take over from the regular camp personnel for the purpose of turning the camp over to the advancing Americans. The Swiss Red Cross representative acted as interpreter and stated that there were about 100 SS guards in the camp who had their arms stacked except for the people in the tower. He said he had given instructions that there would be no shots fired and it would take about 50 men to relieve the guards, as there were 42,000 half-crazed prisoners of war in the camp, many of them typhus infected. He asked if I were an officer of the American army, to which I replied, &ldquoYes, I am Assistant Division Commander of the 42d Division and will accept the surrender of the camp in the name of the Rainbow Division for the American army.&rdquo


Liberated Dachau camp prisoners cheer U.S. troops

As they neared the camp, they found more than 30 railroad cars filled with bodies brought to Dachau, all in an advanced state of decomposition. In early May 1945, American forces liberated the prisoners who had been sent on the death march.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a communique over the capture of Dachau concentration camp: &ldquoOur forces liberated and mopped up the infamous concentration camp at Dachau. Approximately 32,000 prisoners were liberated 300 SS camp guards were quickly neutralized.&rdquo

A tablet at the camp commemorates the liberation of Dachau by the 42nd Infantry Division of the U.S. Seventh Army on 29 April 1945. Others claim that the first forces to enter the main camp were a battalion of the 157th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Infantry Division commanded by Felix L. Sparks. There is an on-going disagreement as to which division, the 42nd or the 45th, actually liberated Dachau because they seem to have approached by different routes and by the American Army&rsquos definition, anyone arriving at such a camp within 48 hours was a liberator. General Patton visited the Buchenwald camp after it was liberated, but not Dachau.

The Americans found approximately 32,000 prisoners, crammed 1,600 to each of 20 barracks, which had been designed to house 250 people each.

The number of prisoners incarcerated in Dachau between 1933 and 1945 exceeded 188,000. The number of prisoners who died in the camp and the subcamps between January 1940 and May 1945 was at least 28,000, to which must be added those who perished there between 1933 and the end of 1939. It is unlikely that the total number of victims who died in Dachau will ever be known.

On November 2, 2014 the heavy metal gate bearing the slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei" (work sets you free) was stolen from the Dachau memorial site under cover of darkness. Security officials who supposedly keep a 24 hour watch on the memorial site believe that the heist was well orchestrated and planned out, and took place between the hours of midnight and 5:30am on Sunday November 2. Estimates place the weight of the gate at at least 250 lbs, so officials believe that multiple people took part in the theft.

Sources: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
&ldquoDachau concentration camp,&rdquo Wikipedia
David Chrisinger, &ldquoA Secret Diary Chronicled the &lsquoSatanic World&rsquo That Was Dachau,&rdquo New York Times, (September 4, 2020).

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